PRIVATE VIEW- TSI commends McNeil, urges police to arrest

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TRANSPARENCY Solomon Islands (TSI) commends the Commissioner of Lands (CoL) Mr.Alan McNeil for reporting the forgery allegation to police and refusing to grant the Fixed Term Estate (FTE) to Chengs Constructions Ltd.

The allegation [forgery] by the Commissioner of Lands that the signature of the Levers [RIPEL?] Solomons Ltd Board Director, Mr Patrick Wong was forged is a serious allegation requiring the police and other responsible institutions [JANUS] to step in, investigate and arrest the person or persons or firms hired or engaged by Chengs Company implicated in this corrupt dealing.

With the current Commissioner of Lands who has vowed to clean up corruption in State land dealings gone are the days of corruption when corrupt and unscrupulous dealers, speculators can easily forged documents in order to get land title from the Ministry of Lands.

Commissioner of Lands Mr McNeil must be commended, and we need more officer like him to be sitting in positions of power to curb corruption that is widespread in every aspect of government procurement, allocation of government land, issuing of concessions, etc. The integrity of the public office has gone down the drain and there is very little consciousness amongst public officials when it comes to corrupt conduct and practice.  

The fight against corruption is a must for all of us.  It is because of corruption that our doctors and nurses and patients do not have a decent hospital from which to provide health and medical care to the taxpayers of Solomon Islands. It is of corruption that the clinics are without medicine, Taro hospital and other health infrastructure are in the state they are in today. Corruption is the Tsunami that is killing most of our people and denying our graduates employment opportunities. It is the climate change that we need to address today and not wait for the next day or next year.  There are many public servants who want to do the right thing in fighting corruption, but they are faced with two major challenges, risk to their lives and for economic reasons. It is therefore important that the police who is empowered to investigate must step up to the challenge.  Transparency Solomon Islands also calls on the Solomon Islands Independent Commission Against Corruption [SIICAC] to step up and look into giving the Anti-Corruption Act 2018 a tooth to bite.  So far the Commission has not gone out to meet stakeholders in this space, not to the Commissioner of Lands who is really trying his best to learn more about the corruption conducts in that ministry as would be for other ministries. Yes Transparency Solomon Islands understands that the Commission does not have funds and is not resourced, but does it really need funds to go and consult with the Commissioner of Lands? Letting him know he has their support. It is time that SIICAC goes out and meet and support those officials who are trying their best as in this case.

There are those holding important decision-making positions within the government who make an effort to stand against corruption and are saying no to corruption, but they need to know that the authorities are with them and that the public is appreciative of their efforts as in the case of the Commissioner of Lands. The action of the Commissioner of Lands is one that contributes to stopping the Corruption Tsunami that is hitting the country bad, be it forestry, mining, land dealing, procurement etc. and will save the country from corruption and serve the interest of the nation first than those corrupt businesses and individuals. This is not the first time the Commissioner of Lands uncovers suspicious corrupt dealings relating to land dealings by officials within his ministry. McNeil must be commended for his stand to refuse giving Chengs Company the FTE and for referring the matter to police for criminal investigation. But how many more before the police, the SIICAC etc. before they investigate and charge those responsible.

Whether Chengs Company already bought the land or not, TSI holds the view that the location of the plot which Chengs has already erected a building is supposedly on land that was compulsory acquired from Levers for development needs of the National Airport in the name of public good and purpose.  Such compulsory acquired land should remain the property of the government for the purpose for which it was acquired. There is therefore besides what the Commissioner of Land is fighting for a lot dealings that needs to be examined here.  Perhaps this is a scheme for extortion of money from the government when the airport is developed and improved.  How can Chengs Company be allowed to do so through this foreigner.

The reason why this land cannot be allocated to anyone be it with correct signatory from Patrick Wong or not is simple. Plane used the airport every day for take-off and landing, thus the airport needs a clear space on its surrounding areas unlike this building was built just a meter away from the fence.  The building which the company built is just beside the fence of the Henderson airport and right under the power lines of Solomon Power. The building is located between the airport fence and the highway road is very risky and portrays that something is not right with those dealing with the company to construct a building on that area. Permanent Secretary (PS) for Ministry of Aviation and Communication (MCA) Mr. Moses Virivolomo in the past years when he appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has already question the responsible authorities on the land dealing surrounding the Henderson airport, which were allocated left and right to Asian companies to build high buildings. The building must be taken down and relocated somewhere that is distance away from the airport and the electric lines. Whilst Transparency Solomon Islands notes the question from the PS of Aviation and Communication, the allocation of those land was started by the Civil Aviation Committee and put to a stop when the former Commissioner of Land [Ruth Liloqula] questioned it and put a stop to any further allocation other than for government purpose.  Since then, land has been allocated left right and everywhere.

It was also revealed in the Island Sun news yesterday that Chengs Company engaged Robert Mani’s consultation firm to follow up on the matter and a sum of $450,000 was paid to LSL, including a Hilux. Transparency Solomon Islands holds the view that LSL has breached its Grant Instrument terms and should not continue but surrender the land back to the Commissioner of Land. The safety of the travelling public and the future expansion and development of the airport are more important than Chengs Company. The police must investigate, and Guadalcanal provincial government put a stop building on the site on Cheng Company.

Transparency Solomon Islands fully supports the action taken by the Commissioner of Land Mr. McNeil and asks police not to sleep on this case now that it has been reported. The alleged forgery must be investigated and the person responsible must be arrested and prosecuted. The high prevalence of corruption in this country is an indication of poor performance of responsible authorities, and more importantly the under resourcing of them pose a more serious problem, especially when one looks at the pillars of the National Integrity Systems [NIS] of the country. Civil Society Organisations are a pillar of the NIS and as such must step up and be truly the voice of the voiceless as always claimed in dialogues with the government.

Thank You Commissioner of Lands for the stand you took and for exposing this corrupt deal.  Forgery is an offense in the Penal Code so the laws are there.  The police now need to do its part.